Youngster Ben Gibson stole the show with a goal minutes into his senior debut as Manly United maintained their unbeaten start to the National Premier Leagues NSW season with a 2-0 victory over Sydney FC at Cromer Park on Good Friday.
Jack Fulton found the opener with a stunner early in the second half before turning provider for Gibson, who sparked a roar from the home crowd by slotting home a goal he’ll never forget.
Manly edged proceedings early doors during a hard-fought opening half an hour which saw both sides struggle to forge any clear strikes on goal.
The first clear-cut chance of the game arrived for Sydney as Adrian Segecic and Jayden Kucharskilinked up with some neat combination play on the edge of the area, but the latter’s low strike could not beat the outstretched leg of Sam Benton.
It took the hosts nearly 40 minutes to find their first shot on target, and if it were not for some Tom Heward-Belle heroics, they would have been in the lead.
The Sky Blues shot-stopper reacted in an instant to flick Manly skipper Sam Gallagher’s front post header onto the crossbar, ensuring the scores would remain level at the interval.
But three minutes into the second stanza, the young goalkeeper was rendered powerless by a moment of magic.
Scott Balderson won the ball back and released a precise switch into the path of Jack Fulton.
The Sydney defence just seemed to back off for a second and the attacker well and truly made them pay, unleashing a rocket into the top corner.
The goal was Fulton’s first of the season and set Adam Griffith’s side well on their way.
After a tight period that followed, Manly’s next chance arrived in the 73rd minute as some superb trickery from Dejan Pandurevic and Richie Cardozo saw Manly’s top scorer find himself with an acre of space inside the six yard box.
But on this occasion Pandurevic could not convert, denied again by a stunning reaction stop from Heward-Belle.
Gibson replaced Balderson 70 minutes in, with the vocal home crowd recognising his first grade debut with a strong round of applause. Just seven minutes later he had them on their feet as Fulton slipped the young winger in behind, before he made no mistake sliding the ball between the legs of Heward-Belle.
The youngster remained in the thick of the action during the closing stages of the contest, rising highest at the back post to head narrowly wide with two minutes remaining.
Stoppage time saw Manly goalkeeper Sam Benton pull out a pair of top-drawer saves to maintain his clean sheet – the first from a long-range Jordan Swibel half-volley and the second a sharp reaction save to deny Gurd from close range.
Post-game, Manly’s man of the moment reflected on his night to remember.
“I was just absolutely buzzing to be able to get on in a game like this,” Gibson said.
“I’ve been here since under 9’s, going all the way from the juniors to being able to come on for first grade was an unbelievable feeling. Especially in a close game, it was awesome to have some fun and score some goals.
“We played well at some moments, others were a bit scrappy but we got there in the end so can’t complain.”
On the other hand, Sydney FC captain Scott Browning was disappointed with a second straight defeat.
“It was a frustrating game for us,” he said.
“We struggled to keep it when we did have it when we do go forward we weren’t making too much up there.
“I think we defensively we were strong, but we moved to a different formation mid-game and I think that just let us down a little bit in the end.”
The result meant Manly will enjoy Easter equal on points with Sydney United 58 on top of the table, where Sydney will look to regroup and build upon a season of mixed fortunes so far.
Manly United FC: 2 (Fulton 48’, Gibson 77’)
Sydney FC: 0
Friday, 2 April 2021
Cromer Park, Dee Why
Referee: Michael Bailey
Assistant Referees: Joon Park, Matt Staples
Fourth official: J. Rose
Manly United FC: 19. Sam Benton, 2. KierenPaull, 15. Jesse Piriz, 4. Jimmy Oates, 16. SeiyaKambayashi, 5. Sam Gallagher (C), 24. Finn Ashton, 7. Jack Fulton (6. Joe Fox 79’), 12. Luca Kmet (10. Richie Cardozo 65’), 14. DejanPandurevic, 13. Scott Balderson (31. Ben Gibson70’)
Substitutes not used: 1. Dylan Mitchell, 20. Alen Aganovic, 3. James Georgaklis
Yellow cards: Nil
Red cards: Nil
Sydney FC: 30. Thomas Heward-Belle, 3. Aaron Gurd, 7. Aidan Simmons (9. Antonio Saracino 45’),8. Patrick Yazbek, 10. Jayden Kucharski (16. Stevan Stanic-Floody 70’), 11. Adrian Segecic (5. Thomas Fay 54’), 22. Calem Nieuwenhof (12. Jake Girdwood-Reich 45’), 15. Scott Browning (C), 17. Jayden Trenkoski, 27. Jordan Swibel, 23. Callum Talbot
Substitutes Not Used: 1. Levi Kaye, 13. Corey Hollman
Yellow cards: Nieuwenhof 17’
Red cards: Nil
3 – Jack Fulton (MU)
2 – Jesse Piriz (MU)
1 – Tom Heward-Belle (SFC)
– By Football NSW reporter and commentator Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)